Our Fight for Freedom – Part V – The Unsung Heroes of North East India

To write about India’s struggle for freedom and not highlight the contribution of the North Eastern states of the country would be unjust. After all, like many others around India, the hills of the North East have their heroes who defied the Colonial Rule and fought hard to drive the British out of the region. What disheartens me is the fact that history remembers only those whose names have made it to the textbooks circulated in schools and colleges. Thus, after covering the Eastern part of the country, I landed in Guwahati with the sole purpose of travelling across the North East, learning about ‘the sons and daughters of the hills’ who were part of the freedom movement. Satisfied with the services and amenities provided by my hotel in Kolkata, I decided to stay at another Treebo in Guwahati – Grand Bhabendra Alay. So here is my final chapter – covering the ‘Unsung Heroes of North East India’.

Bir Tikendrajit Singh – Kangleipak/Manipur

The British and their selfish interests! And this time it was the Manipuri people who fell headlong into their trap. The death of Maharaja Chandrakirti in 1886 caused political mayhem in Manipur – an independent kingdom at that point in time. Surchandra Singh succeeded him to the throne but this was met with disapproval by his brothers Kulchandra and Tikendrajit. After numerous battles, Surchandra Singh abdicated the throne and left for Cachar, while Kulchandra became King and Tikendrajit, ‘Senapati’ or commander of the Manipuri army. But did it end there? No! To get even with his brothers who did Surchandra approach? The British of course! All too happy to meddle with the political situation in Manipur, J.W Quinton, the chief commander of Assam arrived in Manipur on March 22, 1891. By orders given to him, Quinton was to acknowledge Kulchandra as King of Manipur and arrest Tikendrajit. This was not to be and the Manipuri army fought the British troops. J.W Quinton was killed.

In a series of events that followed, the British sent three batches of troops on March 31, 1891 – one from Kohima under Major General H. Collet, the second from Tamu (in Burma, now Myanmar) under Brigadier General T. Graham and the third from Silchar under Colonel R.H.F Rennick.  Tikendrajit led the Manipuri army and a bloody battle ensued where Kangla was finally taken captive on April 27, 1891. Tikendrajit was soon caught by the British forces on May 23 and was put to death by hanging on August 13 at Kangjei Bung (the famous Polo Ground). Today, there is a flyover ‘Bir Tikendrajit’ dedicated to this fierce man who gave his life while trying to oust the British troops from Manipur.

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Kangla Fort

I have lived in Imphal, the capital of Manipur and visited Kangla Fort and Bir Tikendrajit Park on numerous occasions. The imposing fort and the surrounding landscaped gardens are a delight to visit though one cannot help think of the bloody Anglo-Manipuri War of 1891. With my friend to explain the significance of certain monuments and structures within the fort, here are some of the discoveries that I made here. The Fort houses many ponds out of which the ‘Nunjeng Pukhri Achouba’ is the most important. It is believed to be the abode of the supreme deity of the Manipuri people – Lord Pankhangpa. The site where J.W Quinton’s head was buried is called ‘Nunggoibi’ and trust me, the very thought of this sent shivers down my spine. Then there is ‘Manglen’ the site where the mortal remains of the kings of Manipur were cremated and the reconstructed Shree Govindaji Temple. I also came across two serpentine boats called ‘Hiyang Hiren’ used by the ancient kings of the land. Alas, the museum was not open and thus I had to cut short of my trip to Kangla Fort.

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Bir Tikedrajit Park with the monument dedicated to the ‘Senapati’ of Kangleipak

 

Kanaklata Barua – Assam

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Statue of Kanaklata Barua in Gohpur

While most teens around the country today are busy watch Game of Thrones, here was a girl who was shot dead just because she dared to hoist the Indian flag in defiance of the Brits. Also called Birbala, Kanaklata joined a death squad in Gohpur, Assam (Mrityu Bahini) and along with a group of unarmed villagers marched towards the local police station to hoist the Indian flag. This did not go down well with the British who were already dealing with the political turmoil caused by the Quit India Movement and thus warned Kanaklata Barua with dire consequences. Unfettered by their threats, Kanaklata marched forward and was shot dead on September 20, 1942.

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The Police Station where Kanaklata Barua was shot dead

Visiting Gohpur Police Station was the highlight of my trip to Assam. The structure with its yellow walls, now worn down with time reminds one of the fateful day when Kanaklata was shot in the chest. Despite the day being bright and sunny, I could sense an air of gloom and despair surrounding the police station. An eerie silence engulfed the place, something that prevented me from venturing too close to the cottage-like structure. Alas, young blood was spilt here. Though Kanaklata Barua was silenced on September 20, 1942, her legend lives on, not just in history textbooks but in the hearts of her people. Apart from the infamous police station, I also paid a visit to the site where her body was cremated and as well the statue in Borngabari, Gohpur that was erected in memory of the beloved freedom fighter from Assam.

Rani Gaidinliu – Nagaland and Manipur

A Nagamese from the district of Tamenglong in Manipur, Gaidinliu dedicated her life to driving out the British troops from Manipur and the surrounding areas of Nagaland. At the tender age of 13, she joined the Heraka Religious Movement which soon turned political. Her constant protests did not go down well with the British. In 1932, Gaidinliu (now 16) was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, this never dampened her spirits. It was in 1937 that she was bestowed the title of ‘Rani’ by Jawaharlal Nehru who paid her a visit at Shillong Jail. Her efforts finally bore fruit when India achieved freedom in 1947 and she was released from jail. Released, she continued to advocate ancestral religious practices of the Nagamese people. This ‘daughter of the North East’ was bestowed with awards such as the Freedom Fighter Tamrapatra Award 1972 by none other than Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the Padma Bhushan 1982 by President Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, the Vivekananda Sewa Samman 1983 by Bada Bazar Kumar Sabha Pustakalaya, Kolkata and the Birsa Munda Award in 1996 (Posthumous).

 

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Rani Gaidinliu

 

Traveling through Manipur, especially if one is an outsider, can be a little risky and hence I was glad to have a friend (a local) accompany me to Longkhai. Here, I visited the memorial of Rani Gaidinliu. The winding roads are a treat and I enjoyed our little stopovers at home-run eateries that served delicious Manipuri food. What amazes me was the sheer grit and determination on the part of a young tribal girl who devoted her life to the cause of her people – the Zeliangrong tribe.

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Memorial in Longkhai dedicated to Rani Gaidinliu

 

Tirot Sing Syiem – Meghalaya

No mention of him in history textbooks around the country and no street named after him but Tirot Sing Syiem is considered to be one of the greatest among the freedom fighters from North East India. He spent his life fighting British forces hoping to prevent the Khasi Hills from being captured. However, the Khasi Chief was captured and defeated by the British on April 4, 1829. This spirited freedom fighter drew his last breath on July 1835 in Dhaka.

It was rather appalling to see some important sites in Meghalaya that are linked to Tirot Sing Syiem crumble to the ground. ‘Krem Tirot’ one such spot at Nongkhla in Nongkhlaw which was until a few years ago inaccessible due to the lack of a proper road, can now be reached, thanks to the contributions made by local people. I could not make it to Nongkhla due to strikes in the region, but what I took back with me was that one may not always receive recognition for their work, however, that should never be the reason for one to take a step back.

Paona Brajabashi – Manipur

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Statue of Paona Brajabashi

With a road and market dedicated in memory of his efforts to oust the British, it’s difficult not to ask about Paona Brajabashi when in Imphal. Khongjom village, the site of the epic battle between the Brits and the army of Manipur led by Paona Brajabashi was the next place I visited. Until the fierce battle in 1891, this little village was a peaceful place. However, this village witnessed bloodshed and many Manipuri soldiers were killed. It was at this battle that Paona Brajabashi sacrificed his life defending his land from the British imperialists. His efforts were lauded by the government and a war memorial was erected in Thoubal on Kheba hills. Driving past vast paddy fields and enjoying the breathtaking landscape of Manipur made travelling fun. While I had my friend (a Manipuri) who kept providing me with information about the state, I felt accomplished having visited this war memorial in Thoubal.  

There are countless people who played their part in India’s struggle for freedom. Few of these are Kushal Konwar (Assam), Moje Riba and Matmur Jamoh (Arunachal Pradesh), Gopinath Bordoloi (Assam) and Shoorvir Pasaltha Khuangchera  (Mizoram). Though I may not cover all of them in this piece, I salute every soul that stood up against the British.

 

By Bryan

 

Image Credits:

Kangla Fort

Bir Tikendrajit Park in Imphal

Statue of Kanaklata Barua

Police Station in Gohpur

Rani Gaidinliu

Memorial of Rani Gaidinliu

Statue of Paona Brajabashi

 

Our Fight For Freedom- The Western Warriors – Part IV

The struggle for independence in the West of India was remembered as relatively peaceful. This was mainly thanks to the efforts of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and his non-violent, civil disobedience movement. The Gandhian movement brought people from all over the country to fight for independence in a relatively peaceful way. Here is our collective record of the places we visited that stand in honour of the freedom fighters in the west.

A Long Walk To Freedom

You must know about the importance of salt in our daily diet. Now, imagine a time when salt was sold at unimaginable high rates in spite of the fact that extensive reserves of the mineral were easily available to the labourers in the coastal regions of India. This was my first visit to the west of India and my only way to bridge the past and the present.

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Satyagraha

As history records, this particular issue came under scrutiny once the civil disobedience movement was in full function. Abolition of British salt tax was one of the main highlights in the letter Mahatma Gandhi wrote to the Viceroy, wherein he put down an 11-point charter of demands. The British refused to address a single issue. This led Gandhiji and some of his chosen followers to embark upon a long walk to freedom. The march concluded at the exact place where I was standing—the Dandi Beach.

The Coexistence of Humble Life in a Time of Struggle

My next stop was the Sabarmati Ashram. As I entered through the gates the tranquil surrounding and the peaceful coexistence of people made me realize the importance of this particular place. So many movements began from this place. The Dandi March was conceived within the four walls of this ashram. The simplicity of the architecture stood in stark contrast to the violent and complicated times that this place had witnessed. The simple red tiled roof, few windows, and a large verandah were enough to motivate people to fight for a cause. No boardrooms, no projectors required.

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Sabarmati Ashram

The ashram preserves each and every thing that was used by Gandhiji. The humble lifestyle that he followed inspired many during his time to follow him since he believed that bloodshed was not an answer. The people back then wanted to free India from the clutches of untouchability and other forms of racial discrimination. But the future looks bleak from where I stood with so much of hatred and terrorism all around the world, peaceful coexistence seemed like a myth from the pages of a folklore.

Ahmedabad

The city of Ahmedabad played a significant role in the agitations against the British. Much has been already said about the stalwarts of the struggle for independence, leaving behind the details that very few noticed while jotting down history.

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Gujarat Arts and Science College

Thus to explore the various places of historical importance I picked out the lesser known places in this city. Khadia Post office where a lesser known freedom fighter, Umakant Kadia was martyred was my first stop. This post office has not been highlighted much in History. Only local people and enthusiastic historians know about this place. The youth of the country made a remarkable contribution in each part of India. Therefore, when Gandhiji addressed the youth in Gujarat College to join his Non-cooperation movement, many students and professors left the government run institution to join Gujarat Vidyapith. Later,  Vinod Kinariwala, a lesser known figure in the Indian history embraced martyrdom in the same college. Standing there in the corridor of the college I could almost feel the bridge building up slowly.

Mani Bhavan, Mumbai

Mani Bhavan in Mumbai was the headquarters of Mahatma Gandhi in the city. In between 1917 and 1934, Gandhi set out to change the country from this house. Major independence movements including the Satyagraha, Swadeshi, Khadi, Non-Cooperation and Khilafat began right here. This being said, it’s no wonder it’s such a popular attraction in the city. I remember walking in here in absolute awe with a humongous library greeting me as I stepped through the doors.

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The exterior of Mani Bhavan

As I was led up to the first floor, I saw the many photographs and newspaper clippings hung on the staircase wall. Each photograph gives you an idea of how this remarkable man lived. On the floor where Gandhi put up, I saw the iconic chakra and a simple bed that he used The whole experience of being there is very humbling and I would urge every Indian to visit this site just to get a little closer to understanding this great historic figure.

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Gandhi’s room at Mani Bhavan

Gowalia Tank Maidan, Mumbai

Another major site in Mumbai that stands as a testament to India’s independence struggle is the Gowalia Tank Maidan or the August Kranti Maidan. This little park was once a ground where the locals used to bathe their cows. On the 8th of August 1942, however, that changed. Mahatma Gandhi and 60,000 followers gathered here on that historic day to launch Bharat Chhodo Andolan or the Quit India Movement, making it the world’s largest civil disobedience protest.

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Protestors tear gassed by British

Today it is an ordinary park with swing sets, slides and tiled walkways. This very park was the site of where thousands of followers were tear gassed by the British, but today children play here knowing that they are safe and free. In my mind, this shows us just how far we’ve come.

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Looks like a regular old park

Aga Khan Palace, Pune

The Aga Khan Palace is one of India’s most majestic monuments and was constructed by Sultan Muhammed Shah Aga Khan III of Pune in 1892. Historically, it’s one of the most important places in the Gandhian Mass Movement. It was the place where Gandhi, his wife, Kasturba Gandhi and his secretary, Mahadev Desai were imprisoned from 1942 to 1944 after they launched the Quit India Movement. Both Kasturba Gandhi and Mahadev Dev died during their time of captivity here. I liked the lush lawns around the palace and the magnificent arches that greet you when you enter the structure. The palace also houses a marvellous museum to Gandhi and his life. It certainly is worth a visit, especially if you’re a History enthusiast.

 

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The Aga Khan Palace

 

Visiting these places helped me understand just how passionate these individuals were to work hard for and eventually achieve their goal of being free. We still do have a long way to go to become a truly prosperous nation and their ideology might help us get there as well. Keep your eyes peeled for the next instalment of our series, “The unsung heroes of North East India.

-By Soumita and Christabel

Image courtesy:

Featured image: Quit India Movement

Gowlia Tank Maidan

August Kranti Maidan, present day

Aga Khan Palace

Mani Bhavan

Gandhi’s Room at Mani Bhavan

Our Fight For Freedom- Learning From the Past- Part III

I have always come across a pervasive attitude among people around me, that history is irrelevant. In school, not many were interested in learning what happened thousands of years ago. No one was interested in learning dates and events and the achievement of other greater men. The attitude continues now as I meet new people each day.

 

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Remembering Dates and Events

Our problem lies in the fact that history is seen as collection dates and events. I consider history as an integral part of the decisions that drive us each day. The curiosity about history was instilled within me by my father. I still remember going back after a considerably boring history class in my 6th grade and asking my father, why do I have to learn about what other people did before me. He smirked and asked me a simple question, “Can you tell me the date of Indian Independence?” I rolled my eyes and replied are you mocking me? I gave him the dates. Then he explained, that what if I tell you we are not yet independent. He explained how India is still in the clutches of a lot of other evils like intolerance, ignorance, racial discrimination, discrimination on the basis of caste and gender. That very day I understood the importance of history in shaping our skill of interpretation.

 
Gradually I understood the importance of informed opinion since any opinion about the events of the past will not be considered as history. To this day whenever I meet someone who tells me that history is boring and irrelevant, I try this trick on them.

So here is an account from various trips that I took in the northern part of India to understand and draw a parallel between the past and the present.

 

Jallianwala Bagh

My first stop was the city of Amritsar. Jallianwala Bag is situated to the north of the city and now it stands as a reminder of one of the goriest incidents in the history of Indian struggle for independence. The bullet marks on the walls seemed fresh and the well in which hundreds of people jumped to avoid the firing, still sent chills down my spine.

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It was on the auspicious event of Baisakhi or the Sikh New Year that thousands gathered in the Jalianwala Bagh to celebrate the occasion when out of the blue a British troop openly fired them. The protest against the Rowlatt Act gathered so much momentum in Punjab that the British government imposed martial law on Punjab. In spite of the martial law, people gathered to celebrate their festival and as result, the British troop opened fire killing thousands of innocent lives who wanted to celebrate a festival.

Jhansi Fort

My next stop was Jhansi Fort. The deep red structure of the fort and the fact that it stood strong against time is a reminder of the fact that what a crucial part this fort played during the sepoy mutiny of 1857. The fort has 10 gates and is spread across 20 hectares of land. The majestic architecture had strongly defended its the people against British attack during the sepoy mutiny.

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The fort is also a reminder of the fact that how women from every class of the society participated in the freedom struggle. the queen of Jhansi who led an army and fought against the British siege, Rani Lakshmibai is still remembered in the pages of history.

 

Meerut Cantonment

Meerut Cantonment area was next on my list. As soon as I reached the cantonment the memorabilia from the rebellion of 1857 was all around the area. This was the place where a mutiny of sepoys of the Company’s army in the garrison town of Meerut, led a major, but ultimately unsuccessful uprising in India. It then erupted into other mutinies and civilian rebellions chiefly in the upper Gangetic plain and central India. The sepoys revolted against using cartridges that had pig and cow fat as the grease. This hurt the sentiments of both Hindu and Muslim soldiers who had to bite off the cartridge ends to load them in the rifle.

 

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Shaheed Smarak

 

Meerut cantonment is not much of a spot of tourist attraction and so I had to plan my visit early and request for a permission to visit this historical landmark. The historical anecdotes still preserved inside the premise is plausible and this made me realize how we only remember the shining and popular faces in history. How about the innumerable soldiers who dared to protest against the injustice of the British.

Red Fort
From Meerut, I traveled to the capital city to travel to the famous Red Fort where the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the nation on the very first Independence day in 1947. The Indian flag was first hoisted here.

 

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Red Fort

This fort was founded by the great emperor Shahjahan. A tree-lined waterway, known as Nahr-i-bihisht welcomed me and the high walls of the fort were a reminder of the fact that the fort had seen days of struggle. I came across areas within the fort, gardens, and marble structures which were vandalized by the British to replaced them with ugly barrack blocks for the colonial army. I wanted to stay for the light and sound show but had to leave since it was time for me to return.

 

 

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One thing I realized from this exploration was that memorizing events and dates won’t change anything – but understanding why things happened in the past and what the consequences were, will help us to see the parallels to our own circumstances.
When we don’t study and understand the past, we are bound to make the same mistakes as our ancestors. I believe this is the case today and has always been. For a species that prides itself on its rationality and great technological advancements, this is remarkably sad.

By Soumita

Our Fight For Freedom- Part II- The Southern Rebellion

India boasts a number of monuments that stand to tell the tale of how we became a free nation. Famous sites like Barrackpore and the Sabarmati Ashram tell you the story about the brave men and women who gave their lives for the country. But if you look at History books or articles listing down these monuments, you won’t find many in South India. And then I realised, if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a History student, it’s that the History that we’re taught is biased. It’s only the so called ‘creme-de-la creme’ that get to tell their stories, while the other half is largely ignored.

Like the hit show Game of Thrones, our Indian education system has left out some major plotlines and characters from the South. Even our former Union Finance Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram said that South India’s contribution to the Independence struggle is overlooked by historians, even though they were the first ones to pick up arms and oppose the Brits. And he’s right.

 

You'll never take our freedom
The South did this too you know.

 

So let’s put aside the Sepoy Mutiny in Meerut and the horrifying Jallian Wallah Bagh incident for a while. Let’s focus on those brave men and women in the South and the significant places here their struggle took place. They too deserve a place in the History books. Here are 5 beautiful places to visit to understand how pivotal the South was in the independence movement.

The Vellore Fort

I visited the Vellore Fort in Tamil Nadu when I was around eight years old. This was the first time I ever saw a fort and I remember asking my dad to pick me up just so I can see over the ramparts. This glorious structure was built and occupied by the Vijayanagara kings until 1614. It was later occupied by a number of kingdoms, including the Bijapur Sultans, the Marathas, and the Carnatic Nawabs until the British took over in 1760. It is also the main site of the Vellore Mutiny, the first ever note-worthy revolt against the British in 1806. That’s 51 years before the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857!

 

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Kudos for taking over this fort!

 

The Story:

The revolt broke out when the sepoys garrisoned at the fort were made to change the uniforms and wear a new round hat with cockades made from cow leather. This offended their religious beliefs, which led to the sepoys attacking the fort. They also tried to put Tipu Sultan’s sons back in power. By the end of it, over 200 British soldiers and 350 sepoys were killed, with over 300 being wounded. This revolt sent shock waves through England. Though this was the first ever notable military uprising against the British, it has been swept under the rug by historians.

 

Sweeping under the rug
Historians: “Vellore Mutiny?? What’s that?!”

 

Kittur and Bailhongal Forts

The Kittur Fort in Karnataka was once the home of one of India’s most badass woman, Kittur Rani Chennamma. Who was she you ask? This warrior queen was the equivalent of Wonder Woman in India. Visiting this fort and its adjoining museum will give you an idea of just how tough her people were. Most of the fort is in ruins now but I remember being particularly in awe with the menagerie of swords, shields, mail-coats, engraved doors from the palace, paintings and more at the fort’s museum. The Bailhongal Fort, also in Karnataka, houses a number of impressive monuments, including the Sogal Someshwar Temple, Jamia Masjid, and Hafiz Bari Dargah. It’s also famous for the Samadhi to Kittur Chennamma, where you can pay your respects.

 

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The Gates of the Kittur Fort

 

The Story:

So what makes Rani Chennamma so special? She was the first female ruler to take up arms against the British in 1824 (33 years before the Rani of Jhansi) to retaliate against Lord Dalhousie’s Doctrine of Lapse. This policy did not allow Rani Chennamma’s adopted son, Shivalingappa to inherit the throne and ordered for his expulsion instead. Obviously, she defied the order and war broke out. She did manage to defeat the Brits in the first battle. Unfortunately, the second battle wasn’t too kind to her. She was imprisoned at the Bailhongal Fort, where she died on 21st February 1829.

 

Kittur Chennamma
Fighting crime, trying to save the world…

 

Wagon Tragedy Memorial, Tirur

The 20th of November, 1921 was a dark day for the Malabar region in Kerala. And the Wagon Tragedy Memorial stands testament to this. Not many know of this incident because it was considered trivial among historians, but it’s anything but unimportant.

 

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The memorial at Tirur

 

The Story:

It all began when the national leaders encouraged Muslim support for the Indian National Movement in the south. The people in the southern Malabar districts welcomed the movement, but a few of the taluks began an armed rebellion, which later came to be known as the Mappila Rebellion.

By 10th November 1921, the rebellion was almost crushed and over 90 Muslim rebels were gathered together and pushed into an air-tight, iron freight carriage to be sent off to the Central Prison in Podanur, Coimbatore. During the journey, they were given no food or water. The jail was at full capacity when they got there and the prisoners were sent back. On the way back, 69 of the rebels suffocated and died in the wagon, while the surviving few only managed to live by drinking their own urine. The British tried to cover up the whole incident and when they finally admitted their crime, they offered a sum of only Rs. 300 as compensation to the families! You can pay your respects to these forgotten few at the memorial and museum at Tirur.

 

Mapilla Rebels
Dated 1925, this photo shows the Mapilla Rebels being rounded up to be taken to prison 

 

Srirangapatnam

This city in the Mandya district of Karnataka is known for it religious, historical, and cultural importance. I stopped by here once on my way to Bangalore to visit the many incredible sites that it has. It was once the de facto capital of Mysore under both Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. I was surprised at the blend of Hindu and Islamic values in the architecture and way of living here. A few notable places to visit here are the Srirangapatnam Fort, Bailey’s Dungeon, Garrison Cemetery, Tipu Sultan Gumbaz, and Daria Daulat Bagh.

 

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The ruins of the Srirangapatnam Fort

 

The Story:

So why is Srirangapatnam such a huge deal? It was one of the most pivotal scenes of the Anglo-Mysore wars, which lasted over three decades. The wars were fought between the EIC and Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. The fourth and last Anglo-Mysore War, in particular, was fought here against the collective forces of the East India Company and army of the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1799. This siege of Srirangapatnam also saw the end of Tipu Sultan when he was killed by one of his own confidants. Once the city was taken, all of Tipu Sultan’s treasures were shipped off to England to be later exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

 

Tipu Sultan Dead
Omg! Is that really him?

The Cellular Jail, Port Blair 

If you’re ever planning on visiting the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, this historical site is sure to be on your itinerary. The Cellular Jail in Port Blair was used as a prison to keep rebels away from the revolution on the mainland. It was the equivalent to Alcatraz and was almost impossible to escape and many died trying to. Visiting the prison is a reminder of gruesome past, I remember feeling a deep sense of sadness walking through the old execution and torture rooms. Even the tiny cells will give you an idea of how badly the prisoners were treated.

 

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Might look pretty now. Back then… not so much.

 

The Story:

The prison was built in between 1896 and 1906, even though the Britishers were using the island as a prison, right after the Revolt of 1857. Many revolutionaries were executed, but those who weren’t were sent to the prison. They were used in chain gangs to build new prisons and harbours on the island, which led to many deaths. A few famous prisoners were Yogendra Shukla, Bhai Parmanand, Sohan Singh, and Barindra Kumar Ghose. Today, a part of the prison is a hospital that houses 500 beds and 40 doctors to serve the locals.

 

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Some of the prisoners at the Cellular Jail

 

I consider myself lucky to have visited all of these monuments, I feel like I now have a better understanding of what our freedom fighters did just so we could be free and happy. Now that you know that the South did have a pivotal role in the freedom struggle, I hope that you will keep an open mind and learn more about these incidents. Until then thank the heavens for your freedom.

-By Christabel

 

Freedom!
Dance while you can

Image References:

Featured image: The siege of Srirangapatnam

Braveheart Gif

Vellore Fort 

Sweeping under the rug

Kittur Fort

Kittur Chennamma

Mapilla Rebels

Cellular Jail

Prisoners in Cellular Jail

Freedom Dance

 

 

Our Fight For Freedom – Part 1 – Eastern India

While the very thought of having to sit through an hour of boring lectures made most of my friends bunk history class, I was the odd one in the group who never missed a lesson. I guess my passion for the subject can be attributed to my history teacher from high school, a lady who went out of her way to ensure that her classes were anything but boring. To this day, I carry forth that passion and thus hit upon the idea of visiting places across Eastern India that stood up against the British Raj. Making this trip was no walk in the park and putting up at Treebo Green View at Park Circus, Kolkata, helped make life easier during the sweltering month of August. I knew that no matter how tiring my day was, I had a comfortable room waiting for me! So here is an account of my travails that I took back in 2015. I must add that I have left out the North Eastern states of India, which I plan to cover in another article.

Plassey –  Treachery Triumphs

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Monument at Plassey dedicated to Nawab Siraj-Ud-Daula

My first stopover – Plassey or as it is also called, ‘Palashi’ lies to the North of Kolkata (then Calcutta). It’s a small village located on the banks of the Bhagirathi river in the Nadia District of West Bengal. Had it not been for the treacherous methods deployed by the East India Company, the Battle of Plassey fought in June 1757 would have had a very different outcome, and history, as we read it today, would have told a different story. After all, could Robert Clive and his army of 3000 European soldiers and Indian sepoys with 8 pieces of artillery take down Nawab Siraj-Ud-Daula and his 50,000 troops and 50 cannons that were manned by French forces? I will leave that for you to answer.

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Obelisks of Mir Madan, Nabe Singh Hajari and Bahadur Khan in Plassey

Gazing at the monuments erected in memory of those who fought valiantly, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of remorse for those who turned their backs on the Nawab and aided Clive in establishing British supremacy in India. I could picture the Nawab and his army (minus the defectors) braving the elements of nature and defending their land, only to be met with defeat. However, there is a sense of pride that one feels when walking around Plassey. After all, the Nawab and his army did try their best to prevent the East India Company from establishing itself as a political power in the country.

Buxar Revisited

Had Siraj-Ud-Daula’s army prevailed, the battle of Buxar wouldn’t have happened. With him dead, the British chose Mir Qasim as the Nawab of Bengal, hoping to keep him tied down as one of their hand puppets. Alas, Mir Qasim chose not to comply and this resulted in three battles being fought against the East India Company. Defeated, Qasim joined forces with Shuja-Ud-Daula, the Nawab of Awadh and Mughal Emperor, Shah Alam II. However, the combined forces of the Mughals could not stand up to Major Hector Munroe and his troops and suffered defeat on October 23, 1764.

 

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Pillars at Katkauli

 

I spent most of the day at the battleground of Katkauli, which is around 6 km from Buxar. Two concrete pillars stand at the entrance of the battleground, reminding one of the harrowing events that unfolded centuries ago. War memorials are never a happy sight but the stone slabs and pillars constructed helped evoke a sense of patriotism and responsibility in me. Who would have imagined that a place so peaceful was the very same location where one of the fiercest battles in Indian history was fought.

Mutinies@Barrackpore

The oldest cantonment in India, Barrackpore played a significant role in instilling a sense of nationalism among the Indian sepoys which led to two events – the Sepoy Mutiny of 1824 and the First War of Independence which happened in 1857. Engaged with the Burmese (first Anglo – Burmese War), the British asked 47 sepoys to cross the waters of Burma and reach Rangoon. This was against the religious beliefs of the sepoys and a rebellion under the leadership of Binda Tiwary aka Bindi Baba ensued in 1824. However, this was short-lived and the East India Company once again prevailed.

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Cenotaph dedicated to Mangal Pandey in Barrackpore

The second rebellion which is considered by many historians as the ‘First War of Independence’ was lead by Mangal Pandey, a sepoy who opposed the East India Company’s use of paper cartridges during warfare. Rumors spread that the cartridges which had to be bitten before being loaded were greased with the fat of pigs and cows, a violation for both Hindu and Muslim sepoys. Pandey opened fire against Lt. Henry Baugh causing the other sepoys to rise up in arms. However, Mangal Pandey was soon captured and put to death by hanging on April 8, 1857.

Walking down the endless roads of the oldest cantonment sent shivers down my spine. Tall trees and creepers covered most of the warehouses that lay desolate and I couldn’t help but recreate the series of events that took place centuries ago. The sound of feet shuffling in defiance of the British rule, the sound of muskets going off and chants of freedom seemed to come alive as I passed through the cantonment. My next destination in Barrackpore was the Mangal Pandey Park dedicated to the freedom fighter. The park houses a statue of the sepoy reminding visitors of the sacrifice he and his fellow sepoys made. I also had the privilege of visiting Gandhi Museum on Riverside Road. Established in 1961, the place houses around 28,000 letters and 12,000 books written by Mahatma Gandhi. It also exhibits tape recordings, bulletins and press clippings that deal with the life and works of Gandhiji.

Netaji Bhavan in Kolkata

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Netaji Bhavan on Elgin Road, Kolkata

Established in 1961, the Netaji Research Bureau is part of Netaji Bhavan, the ancestral home of the radical leader Subhash Chandra Bose, the founder of the Indian National Army. Situated on Elgin Road or as it now called Lala Lajpat Rai Sarani, this historical place houses Netaji’s documents, articles, photographs that deal with his life and works, and collectables from around the world.

Champaran Satyagraha

 

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Mahatma Gandhi addressing the peasants at Champaran

 

When forced to grow indigo on their farms and not given sufficient remuneration in return, the peasants of Champaran district of Bihar grew agitated of the zamindars and British oppression. Hearing about the brutal treatment meted out to the peasants, Gandhiji visited Champaran to learn about the plight of the peasants. This visit was met with disapproval by the British who demanded that Gandhiji leave Champaran. However, this was not to happen and led to a prolonged period of civil disobedience. This Satyagraha or passive political resistance was the first in the series of three movements across 1917-18, spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi.Getting off the train at Bapudham Motihari railway I imagined thousands of peasants gathering at this very platform awaiting the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi. Though India would gain freedom 30 years later, the hope of the people of Champaran is what sent shockwaves across the country inciting the people of India to take a firm and yet non-violent approach against the British Raj. I managed to get a local guide I visited two villages  –  Jasauli Patti and Chandraiah, Bhitiharwa Ashram which lies in the northwest of Bihar, Pipra Kothi in the south and as well as Hazarimal Dharamshala in Bettiah and the house of Advocate Gorakh Prasad where Gandhiji put up. I was rather sad at the sight of the Dharamshala which is now reduced to a garbage dump with numerous ad holdings covering its facade and the advocate’s house’s bare and half-demolished. Still, this did not dampen my spirits and I consider myself fortunate to have been able to visit these places. However, this isn’t the end of my trip as I travelled to the North Eastern states of India. As promised, I will include their participation in the Freedom Struggle Movement in another article, soon.

By Bryan

Image Credits:

Monument at Plassey

Obelisks of Mirmadan, Nabe Singh Hajari & Bahadur Khan

Pillars at Katkauli

Cenotaph dedicated to Mangal Pandey in Barrackpore

Bust of Netaji outside the Bhavan

Mahatma Gandhi addressing the peasants at Champaran

 

 

 

 

 

Landour- A Land where Fiction Comes Alive

As a student of literature, I have always wanted to be a part of each and every novel or play that I read or watched. The characters taught me how to live many lives in one lifetime. I can imagine myself in those settings, traveling back and forth in time, speaking their language. The characters which come close to my heart possesses me and I behave like that until I find the next one.

 

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The City Life Left Behind

Therefore, it came as a surprise when, for the first time, I wanted to visit a place after reading a novel. Rain in the Mountains: Notes from the Himalayas was one such piece of literature for me. I remember searching for wildflowers on the sidewalks on a sultry summer afternoon in Kolkata. It was then that I realized I needed to visit this place.
The last semester of my masters came in with an exciting opportunity to travel to Mussoorie. So, without a doubt, Landour was included into our itinerary.

 

Once Upon a Mountain Time
As soon as I stepped into the magical land of Landour, pine scented air welcomed me. All my senses were overtaken by an unfamiliar feeling of harmony. In the city, I find a rather disoriented version of myself, so this came as a surprise.

 

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The Serpentine Roads

 

I inhaled the lush green of the mountains and followed the serpentine roads of Landour as far as I could. I could see myself becoming a part of the landscape. All the pages were coming to life, one by one. “I am on my zigzag way, pursuing the diagonal between reason and heart”. Indeed I was pursuing a diagonal between reason and heart. The reason kept on repeating that this is just a holiday, you will eventually have to leave. But my heart shushed her since I was already planning my life in the mountains.

Mountains in My Blood

Have you ever been to a place and felt like you belonged there? It’s uncanny resemblance to some of the dreams that you have. Landour was one such landscape, that omits the fine line between dream and reality. The city life that I am used to, is filled with cutthroat honesty. But in Landour, it was a different kind of honesty. The grass smelled sweet and the oak leaves created patterns that required decoding. I have never witnessed such an azure hue in the sky. I was sure that the city life has blinded my vision.

 

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A Hermit’s Habitat

 

It was a festival of sensation. back then Landour was still hidden from the cruel eyes of humankind. So, it was a place packed with simple joys. ‘The smell of mint and myrtle bruised clover, the touch of grass and air and sky’ made me realize that why this place has inspired so many authors like Ruskin Bond, Bill Aitken, Allan Sealy, Hugh and Colleen Gantzer.

The other fragrance that made me lose my track of time, was the earthy sweet smell of peanut butter and freshly baked bread. I knew it was my time for breakfast. Landour is a paradise for the food lovers due to its colonial past. The mornings are scented with freshly made peanut butter, the afternoons are caramelized with sandwiches on the grill and the lazy afternoons are reserved for the citrus scented jams and pickles. I came to know that one of my favorite accompaniment, the mighty peanut butter was first commercially produced here. What a small world.

Notes by the Wayside
Landour was a military sanatorium for the British generals who were a part of the Gurkha conquest of Kumaon–Garhwal. They made this place their own. Even the name of the houses like Kenilworth, Ivanhoe, Waverly and Woodstock which were once British residences reminded me of Sir Walter Scott’s novels. I thanked Ruskin Bond in my mind for guiding me through this mystic land. It was then that I decided, I have to meet him.

 

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‘Sunshine on my Shoulders makes me Happy’

 

As impulsive as I am, I decided to come back to Landour the next day. Since I had to walk back to my hotel in Mussoorie, I decided to return early to catch a glimpse of the man who inspired me for the journey. Luckily, it was a Saturday and Ruskin Bond, the author himself interacts with readers and followers in the Oxford Book Store. I was keen on sharing my story and my experience. Therefore with a heavy heart and a promise to come back the next day, I walked back to Mussoorie to confront my inspiration behind this trip.

Come back next week for the second part of my Landour trip and how my interaction with Ruskin Bond, made this journey even more enjoyable.

A Journey To The Golden Triangle- Part I

College changed my life in more ways than one and one of my greatest memories from back then was my trip to the famed Golden Triangle. This was my first real trip without my family, so it was exciting. My classmates and I were made to go on the trip by our Tourism and Travel teacher and like a young Bilbo Baggins, I was hesitant at first. But with a little convincing I was running out the door, screaming ‘I’m going on an adventure!’. Here’s part one of my epic vacation to Delhi, Agra and Rajasthan.

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Me!!!

Day 1: Catching the ‘Karnataka Express’ from Bangalore Central

Catching the train from Bangalore was a story by itself. My cousin,  Sheryl* and I (yes, she was my classmate) tried to make our way from Kammanahalli to Majestic through pouring rain (it’s pretty far). Her brother was also going on vacation, so he accompanied us. No cabs or autos were willing to take us but we finally managed to get a cab about 30 minutes from our train’s departure time. Once we reached the station, we ran, carrying about 20 kgs of luggage through the crowded platform. We then reached our designated platform and to our horror saw that our train was leaving the station. Thankfully for us, Sheryl’s brother is like Hercules. He literally picked us up and threw us through the slim compartment door. Then began our long journey to Agra

Day 2 and 3: Enroute To Agra

I’ll be honest, the journey to Agra was not very pleasant. We were constantly fighting off people who were plotting to steal our seats. Sigh… the charms of trains. We also made the mistake of not packing tons of food and we didn’t trust the railway canteen. So, we basically stayed hungry a majority of the way there, save the occasional packet of lays or a pav bhaji. We did meet some kind strangers on the train though, a lady who shared guavas with us and a little boy, Jeet, who kept us entertained with his constant shenanigans.

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Are we there yet?

Day 4: Agra… at last

On day 4 we finally got to Agra Cantonment Station at about 6 o’clock in the morning. It was mid-November at the time, so it was pretty cold and foggy. We made our way to our hotel groggy, sleepy eyed, but excited all the same. My cousin and I were particularly enthusiastic because we were going to see the Taj Mahal that very day. I remember us staring out the window, waiting to see the iconic silhouette of the Taj… you can’t see it though.

We then got to our accommodation for the next two days. It was a decent place, the rooms were cosy and the bathrooms, spotless. I remember being particularly excited about breakfast. It was the first real food I had in two days and I gobbled down toast and eggs like never before. We then freshened up and made our way to the bus to go see the Taj.

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Ermagaaaad! Real food!

Wah Taj!

The bus we travelled on had to stop about two kilometres from the gates of the Taj Mahal and we walked down that stretch. I still remember seeing the iconic dome reveal itself to us from behind the trees. I was simply awestruck from that moment on. Walking through those gates and seeing this iconic monument in the flesh was simply surreal. Pictures don’t do the Taj justice and I think everyone should see it just to understand its true magnificence!

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Customary ‘couple picture’ at the Taj

 

So after a tour of the complex and a picture-taking session, we head outside to look at the many stores around the complex. A piece of advice, if you’re looking for souvenirs, don’t buy them here! They’re super expensive, to begin with, and if you’re visiting from abroad, you’re more likely to get ripped off.

A Sandstone Giant

Right after this, we boarded our bus again to visit the Agra Fort. We got to the fort pretty late, which is one thing that I do regret. This fort puts castles in fantasy books to shame with its impressive 94-acre complex. It boasts thick walls about 70 feet high and a massive moat around, that back in the day had live crocs in it! There’s also an Elephant Gate, which supposedly had two live elephants guarding it during sieges.

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Magnificent AF, isn’t it?

I finally got to see a lot of places that I’ve only read about in history books, including the Diwan-i-Khas, Diwan-i-Am, Jehangir’s Palace, and the Sheesh Mahal. If you’re a history geek, I would urge you to visit this site. It was after all the stronghold of the Mughal Empire until Delhi was the made the capital in 1638. The fort is about 2 km from the Taj Mahal, across the River Yamuna, so you can actually see the Taj from the sandstone ramparts. The sad part was that there’s so much to see here, but it got dark too fast and we had to get back to our hotel. If you’re planning a trip to Agra, get to the Taj Mahal early in the morning and spend the rest of the day at the Fort. This way you’ll get to see a lot more.

Day 4: Fatehpur Sikri

After a relaxing morning and early lunch, we checked out of our hotel and boarded the bus for a long ride to the medieval city of Fatehpur Sikri. Located about 36 km from Agra, this city was founded and built by Emperor Akbar in 1569. I think this is the most phenomenal monument from the Mughal era, boasting a mosque, a number of palaces, courts, and the tomb of the Sufi saint, Salim Chishti. You can step into the marble dargah dedicated to the saint and get his blessings. It is said that your wishes come true if you tie a thread onto the intricate jali windows of the dargah. I found this quite interesting and made my friend give it a go (what?! I didn’t want to get whacked by a broom of peacock feathers). I have no idea if her wish came true, but it was an experience worth having.

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Us in front of the Dargah

 

My favourite part of the city was the Buland Darwaza. This massive sandstone gate was built to commemorate Akbar’s victory over Gujarat in 1601. After a long afternoon at the city, we took a drive to the Agra Cantonment Station to catch our train to Delhi. The journey took about four hours and we were at the Nizamuddin Railway Station about 10:00 pm. We then head to Karol Bagh to check into our hotel, the Hotel Metro Continental for a good night’s rest.

Day 5: Shopping and Exploring Old Delhi

On day five we were supposed to visit all of Delhi’s monuments, but we decided to break the rules a tad and went shopping instead. We postponed the sightseeing for the next day. The teachers who had accompanied us told us we could go off on our own to explore the city. So my friends and I, including Sheryl, decided to head to the famous Connaught Place in the morning. We met up with one of our friends, Riola’s* cousins in the city. She was meant to be our guide for the day. We took the metro from Karol Bagh to Rajiv Chowk first to visit Janpath Market. This is where everyone went nuts, we found clothing, jewellery, footwear and so much more all at dirt-cheap prices. We had to haggle a bit of course (a skill I’m not too proficient at) but we didn’t mind.

 

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Little Ariel* wants to a ride on the rickshaw

 

We then picked up our findings proudly and made our way to Connaught Place, where we had lunch at a little momo place. We did love the pretty white buildings, but considering we were college students on a tiny budget, we didn’t really shop too much here. At around one in the afternoon, we decided to visit Old Delhi, because it wasn’t  included in our itinerary and we had some time to kill.

We then took the metro from Rajiv Chowk to Chandni Chowk and then an auto to the Red Fort. It was a weekend and the day after Bakrid, so the landmark was really crowded! We couldn’t even get tickets. So after about half an hour of waiting, we gave up and decided to visit the Jama Masjid across the street.

So remember how I said it was the day after Bakrid… yep, it didn’t strike us until we got there. We decided to walk down Meena Bazaar Road on the East Gate of the mosque, which by the way was jam packed. The path was filled with vendors selling clothing, toys, food and oddly enough, goats. There were crying children, street dogs scavenging around and the road seemed unnaturally soft. It was only then that we realised that the road covered in a 2-inch carpet of goat poop. As icky as it sounds, it was a wonderful atmosphere filled with colour, celebration and food all around. If you don’t mind huge crowds and the smell of goat, you’d probably enjoy yourself.

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Almost there!

When we finally made our way up those steps and we weren’t allowed to enter the mosque. Why you ask? We were wearing sleeveless tops and our heads weren’t covered. Thankfully we had shawls, so we covered up and went into the huge complex. It was lovely to see so many people come together to pray and give thanks for their day. We then made our way back to the hotel.

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A sight well worth the climb… and poop

Day 6: Exploring Delhi

We all woke up with a serious shopping hangover, but we had to start off early in the morning because we had a jam packed schedule. We gobbled up our breakfast and head to the Lotus Temple first in South East Delhi. If you’re looking for some peace of mind in the city, this is the place to be. This Baha’i Temple is open to all people regardless of caste, creed or colour and is surrounded by lush gardens if you want to take a walk.

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‘Look, Sheryl, the Sydney Opera House!’

 

Next was the Qutb Minar. I have wanted to see this monument ever since I was a little girl, so I was excited as hell. With over 40 different monuments, the Qutb Complex will take you some time to discover. You’ll probably see scores of school groups running around the Iron Pillar and history students busy taking down whatever their guides tell them. Visit the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, which has a unique blend of Hindu and Persian architecture. The Tomb of Iltutmish, the Alai Minar, Ala-ud-din Khilji’s Tomb and Madrasa, and the Iron Pillar are also worth a visit. Again, we couldn’t spend too much time here, because we had more to see.

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Everybody wants a picture with the Iron Pillar

 

First off here was the Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum, which is set up in the residence of the late Prime Minister. The museum gave me a real insight into the most influential family in India when it comes to politics. It maintains most of the house’s original decor with a couple of rooms changed around to accommodate artefacts. A couple of the rooms are plastered with the pictures of the family, newspaper clippings and the personal effects of Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi on the day that they died. They’ve also immortalised the very place where Indira Gandhi was shot and killed with a crystal pathway. This is a spectacular place to visit if you’re a history buff.

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Everything you ever wanted to know about the Gandhi’s are right here

Next was we went to Rajghat to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi. The memorial is surrounded by greenery and is a peaceful place. Like plenty of other monuments here, you must remove your footwear before you enter. If you’re afraid to leave your footwear around, you can carry a bag where you can store your shoes, just in case. I particularly liked visiting the memorial, because it helped break all the stress of sticking to a schedule. It was calm and I enjoyed my walk around the gardens.

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Serene and beautiful

Right after this, we did a little drive by past the India Gate, the Parliament House and the Rashtrapati Bhavan, all of which are simply majestic to look at. We didn’t really have the time to visit each of these monuments individually because we had another train to catch.

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What a way to end the day

So at around 6:30 p.m., we made our way to the Nizamuddin Railway Station for the next leg of journey— on to Rajasthan we go!

If you’ve done the Golden Triangle tour, tell me your stories in the comments below and I look forward to sharing my other crazy tales. Look forward to part-2 next week.

*Names changed for dramatic effect

-By Christabel

 

Discovering India